It is widely accepted that the rate of evolution (substitution rate) at neutral genes is unaffected by population size fluctuations. This result has implications for the analysis of genetic data in population genetics and phylogenetics, and provides, in particular, a justification for the concept of the molecular clock. Here, we show that the substitution rate at neutral genes does depend on population size fluctuations in the presence of overlapping generations. As both population size fluctuations and overlapping generations are expected to be the norm rather than the exception in natural populations, this observation may be relevant for understanding variation in substitution rates within and between lineages.
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